Monday, November 7, 2011

Downton Abbey Finale: "If you're turning American on me, I'll go downstairs."

Exceeding all my wildest hopes and expectations, the final episode of Downton Abbey came ripping across my television screen.  With a powerful finish to the season that was sexy, dramatic, touching, and surprising, and which cast class gulfs into very sharp relief, it was as if the producers of this series set out to make my Downton dreams come true. (Not surprisingly, we also learn this week in the news that there will be a third series, so I am revving up for more Downton dreams already).
SPOILERS WARNING -- for Series (Season) 2 of Downton Abbey, Final Episode. Please beware and stop reading now if you don't want to know how things end.
Of the myriad aspects of the world of Granthams, perhaps the best and most continually interesting is the interplay of class on class. In this last episode, several story lines dealt head on with the shattering of social barriers after WWI.

And none did it better than the storyline of maid Ethel's "bastard" baby. Would she give her fatherless baby to the dead man's parents to raise in the upper reaches of society? This could be a hard story to sell to a modern audience which would understandably be thinking: "of course that baby should stay with its mother." But Downton Abbey does a great job of making this seem like the dilemma it would most certainly have been. The benefits to that child of being raised with money, position and name -- versus living in poverty with an unwed mother in 1919 or 1920 are substantial beyond our ability to really imagine. It appears by the end of this episode that Ethel will keep her child, citing the shocking idea that a child is best off with its mother.

Also dancing around class divisions, Sybil's continuing attachment to the chauffeur and desire to marry him is a show stopper early on.  The scene where Sybil declares to her family that she will marry Branson was extraordinarily done, full of wonderful acting. Even though by modern standards, this may not be earth-shattering stuff, Lord and Lady Grantham sell it as such. You can really feel the level of abomination that is felt by both the Granthams and by the people below stairs by this attachment. Mr. Carson's vehement: "have you no shame?" to Branson is tremendous. Neither side of the divide feels it easy or desirable to jump across that gulf.

I also really appreciate that here, Lord Grantham finally draws a line to his liberality. He is a character that continually surprises with his ability to be big and forgiving, respectful of subordinates, and open in his views, almost to the point that he doesn't feel real. He needed to take strong exception to Sybil's plans in order to be believable as an aristocrat. I'm glad he did. And when, for once, it is his American-born wife, Lady Grantham, who expresses a softer, more understanding sentiment toward her daughter, he has the great line: "If you're turning American on me, I'll go downstairs."

Speaking of great one-liners, the Dowager Countess Violet (Maggie Smith) can't be outdone and has a very nice one to Lady Edith who is moping about her sister's good luck in love and her own forlorn state. Says Violet: "Don't be defeatist dear; its very middle class."

Meanwhile, two of the most popular couples on the show: Mary & Matthew and Anna & Bates both have excitingly sexy moments.

Mary and Matthew share a dance, a declaration of feelings and even a kiss in a very romantic moment in a darkened downstairs hall. I'd forgotten how much I like the two of them together. It is all wonderful until Matthew's lovely fiance Lavinia spoils it by showing up and then later being noble about it all, and then later still, dying. (I knew someone would have to die of the Spanish flu and I am glad it wasn't Cora). It was right and proper for Lavinia to remove herself in this way, though this will not appear to make things any better for Matthew at present as he is now torn up by grief and guilt. We'll have to wait till next season to see if he can overcome those feelings before Mary marries the icky Richard.

Even better than Mary and Matthew kissing, has to be Bates and Anna getting married! This is almost too much; I couldn't have hoped for seeing that -- let alone seeing them together in a bed. Oh yeah. What? Bates being hauled away on a murder charge related to his ex-wife's suicide at the end. I'm OK with that. We certainly saw it coming and at least he got to have one night with Anna first....

This is the episode that just kept on giving. As if Mary & Matthew and Anna & Bates weren't enough, we get Lord Grantham and new maid Jane in some serious embraces -- are you kidding me! Can't believe they almost got down and dirty. They somehow make this cliche idea unbelievably touching. It doesn't feel like a cliche when it comes to Lord Grantham because he is so "not like that". Their scenes are hot and also very sad. Especially later as she tells him goodbye:
"Will you be happy?"
"I have no right to be unhappy. Which is almost the same."

So glad she left and they didn't get caught together. It can just be a slightly evil, but meaningful and tender relationship -- a moment of romantic excitement but not more. And am even more glad that all seems to be well again between he and Cora because they really are a great pair. LG deserves a bit of excitement; he's been such a great character this season, almost unseating Bates for the title of the unexpectedly appealing and surprisingly sexy heartthrob.

And to just bring everything round we have Thomas being helpful and obliging, and O'Brien being penitent -- though neither without ulterior motives I expect.

And by the end, Lord Grantham gives his blessing to Sybil and Branson, while Violet's words still ring in my ears:
"The aristocracy has not survived by its intransigence."

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